Sonar & Annual Meeting
By The Rev. Canon Shay Craig, Christ Cathedral, Salina
I love science because it offers me objective truths about reality through which I can discern God's truth at work in my world. One example of this is SONAR.
SONAR stands for Sound Navigation And Ranging. It is the method with which, among other things, submarines navigate through the deepest, darkest, coldest, murkiest and least well-known regions of our globe.
Submarines are, as you know, pressurized cans or tubes with no windows, or most of them have no windows. They are designed to take human beings down into the ocean depths, where they have no business at all without the protective shield that the submarine provides. Once submerged, the people in the submarine would have no idea where they are, what is around them, or where they are going, without the use of SONAR. This miracle of modern science, this ancient listening device used by whales and dolphins for millennia, is what makes submarine navigation possible.
Sound travels easily through water. We think it doesn't because when we talk underwater, we make no sound. That's because our vocal chords don't work underwater. Significantly, we are not made for speaking in this environment.
But sound waves conduct easily in water. Which is why SONAR, the intentional transmission of sound waves through water, works so well.
There are basically two kinds of SONAR. The first is called active SONAR. That's where the submarine sends out a sound wave - a ping- and it bounces off of the target and returns to the submarine, where the information is down-loaded, and the data can be read and interpreted.
Using active SONAR, a submarine can tell information about its target. It can tell how big it is, how dense it is, whether it is moving, whether it is alive, or how far away it is. It might be a rock formation or whale or another submarine or a wreck. All of this information is available to the submarine because it sent out a ping and listened to the answer.
The other kind of SONAR is called passive SONAR. That's where the SONAR operator is just listening. Over time, listening attentively, for hours and hours, that person begins to recognize the unique sound, the "signature," of certain things. The SONAR operator can tell the difference between a whale and another submarine, the screws of a very large ship, or the sound of a deep-sea drilling station. Passive SONAR requires hours of listening and listening and being willing and able to receive the information and interpret it.
This is very much how God works in our lives. God is constantly seeking to communicate with us. God is yearning ceaselessly to be in relationship with us. We like to say that because we believe in God we are never alone. This is true because, regardless of what we are trying to navigate, no matter how deep or how murky or how cold or how unfamiliar the terrain, God is seeking to communicate with us, God is with us, God is speaking to us.
What is required of us is that we listen. One way we do that is prayer. When we pray it's very similar to the description of active SONAR that I just gave. We send out a ping, a sound wave of thought, a wish, a petition, a dream, a prayer of gratitude, a prayer of lament. And God responds to us, sending back an answer that helps us to find our way, to navigate the spaces of joy and sadness, hope and disappointment and love. Prayer is active SONAR.
But there is also passive SONAR in our relationship with God.
We do this by listening for God, looking for God, expecting and recognizing God in our lives. When we are able to identify God's “signature”, if you will, to see where God is at work in our lives, to become familiar with what it looks like or what it sounds like when God is at work in the world, this is passive SONAR. It is our ability to hear what God is saying, to see what God is doing, and to navigate the world simply by being aware of the presence of and listening to our loving God.
All of this came to mind for me this week as we read this passage from Matthew about God communicating with Joseph.
The angel of God comes to Joseph in a dream to tell him to go to Egypt to keep Jesus from being killed. And then again in a dream, to send him to Israel, where it may now be safe. Joseph is able to hear God's words, interpret and respond the them.
Joseph, the father of Jesus, is not the first Joseph God has spoken to in a dream.
When the angel speaks to Joseph, the father of Jesus, in a dream, God is reaching out to Joseph to help to protect his small and precious and blessed family. To keep it safe.
In Exodus, Joseph, the son of Israel, (you know, Joseph of the many colored coat?) was also instructed by God in a dream. He was also sent to Egypt for safety. And it was not just a small family but his whole tribe which was saved by listening to God's instructions in a dream.
It is remarkable that both of these men were able and willing to be spoken to, to believe, and to act on the words of an angel in a dream. Why in a dream, do you suppose?
Well, I have a theory. It was only in a dream that the angel could be heard. Both of these men had so much going on in their lives. Joseph, the father of Jesus, was a new father, he had a young wife, and they were being hunted...things were crazy. So, it was only once he was completely at peace, asleep in a semi-catatonic state, that he could be still enough to hear the voice of the angel and receive the message of God.
Joseph, of the coat of many colors, was in jail and at risk of being killed, lots going on in his mind, as well. But again, in stillness, in quietness, Joseph was able to hear the words of God, and, believing them, to save a nation, and his own skin.
Both of these men use passive SONAR to be able to recognize the "signature" of God and act on it. They were both listening but not talking.
Remember, underwater there is no point at all in our talking.
Lately, I have noticed that in the Gospels, Jesus frequently refers to "those with ears to hear." He says, "verily I say unto you." He frequently tells us to listen, but not to speak. He does not say go out and give long lectures about things. He never says, " go and talk somebody's ear off about me." In fact, he frequently says "don't tell anybody what I did here", or "don't speak to anyone of this."
Jesus says this, I believe, because he knows that people's minds are not changed when we argue with them. People's lives are not changed with a lecture.
People's minds and hearts are changed when they receive the Holy Spirit and let the Holy Spirit move them. Jesus does not tell us to shout it from the mountain tops because Jesus has full confidence in the Spirit. And in the Spirit's ability to be a force for change in the lives of those who will listen. Followers of Jesus are not asked to speak, they are asked to listen. And it is in this posture, of listening, of alertness, that we can discern the Holy Spirit and the will of God.
Joseph was sleeping when the angel of the Lord came to him, in a quiet space, in a receptive posture. There is something to that, that the winds of change that come from the Holy Spirit are present not when we are talking, but when we are listening.
And when we are listening to the voice of God, all things are possible.
Both Josephs were in the darkest and deepest and least familiar territory of their lives. In those spaces, they were still and they listened to the Spirit. And those communications from God saw them safely home.
This is a particularly apt message for us at this time of year. We are coming into the season in which we hold our annual meeting. At this meeting we will take care of particular business, elect new Vestry members and delegates to diocesan convention. But it is at this meeting, as well, that we discern together how we are going to navigate the waters before us.
The church, not just the Cathedral but the big "C" Church, is entering into new territory, an uncharted future. The modern world makes new demands on the traditions of our church. And we must together navigate dark, murky, uncharted territory to find our way to the promised land. To be the church that this world needs.
In order to do that, in order to become what God intends for us to become, we must not talk so much, we must listen more. Like Joseph in our passage today, we must be still, we must let our minds rest, and let our hearts lead us.
If we can put ourselves in a posture of openness, be willing to hear what God is whispering in our hearts, and even more daringly, be willing to live into what God calls us to do. Then and only then will we navigate safely what is before us.
And, like all undersea explorers, what lies before us is vast and beautiful and brimming with potential.
There is no reason to be afraid of what the future holds for the church. God knows the path. God is speaking to us constantly, answering our prayers, and showing up in our lives, if we are able to read the signs and recognize the signature.
God knows the way forward for us, and as he did with Joseph the son of Israel and Joseph the father of Jesus, he will lead us, each small family and each great tribe, into safety and prosperity and ultimately into the kind of church that can heal all that is broken in creation. As the Bishop would say, to close the gap.
Our annual meeting is two weeks away. In the time that remains to us, I invite you to listen to God, actively in prayer, and passively, by observing how God is at work in our community. Listen for the Spirit. Be in a posture of openness. And come to that meeting equipped with all that you have heard, and a spirit of adventure for the journey ahead of us.